English master’s program focuses on bridging activism and education

University of Nevada, Reno Associate Professor Lynda Walsh looks forward to MAPE program’s fourth year, reflects on program’s success

The Frandsen Humanities Building is home to office and classroom space for the Department of English.

Frandsen Humanities Building

The first class, comprised of just three students, in the master’s of arts in English with a public engagement emphasis (MAPE) program began in 2015. Professor Lynda Walsh from the University of Nevada, Reno Department of English worked alongside several other faculty members from the literature and rhetoric departments to create the program.

“We started planning the MAPE program when the literature and environment program stopped because we wanted to continue to bring together students from both literature and rhetoric,” Walsh said. “Many of our faculty were doing public engagement of various kinds, but there wasn’t yet a program to coordinate those efforts. So, in an effort to replace the old program, we decided we needed to build on the strengths of our faculty.”

When the English faculty members conceived of the program, they were hosting creative writing workshops at homeless shelters and prisons, writing grants for non-profit organizations like the Reno Bike Project, and volunteering at the Nevada Museum of Art.

“We said this is something we are all very passionate about, so why don’t we teach our students how to do this because public engagement and service learning are the future of the humanities,” Walsh said. “The future is using our skills in communication and analysis that we have as humanists to make our community stronger. Let’s make a degree program that trains students how to engage with their community, one that gives them really concrete skills that they can then use to better themselves and their community.”

The MAPE program is extremely flexible to fit the needs of master’s students. There are three required components: a seminar in public intellectualism, an experiential learning component and an interdisciplinary literacy component.

“The seminar in public intellectualism encourages students to think critically about what it’s like to use their skills to engage with a community, and how to avoid being a sage on stage,” Walsh said. “The experiential learning component is varied; it could be traditional or non-traditional, but students should spend around 10 hours per week on this component. They can teach a course in which they design a service-learning element for their students. They could also do an internship with local non-profits. The final component, the interdisciplinary literacy component, is customized to the students’ individual career plans. They can learn Spanish if they feel their community will need them to know it, they can learn Python (a programming language) to help them code, or they could even learn the disciplinary language of anthropology if they feel it will help them achieve their goals.”

Since the program began, it has grown to eight students. One of the graduates of the program interned in marketing at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, and she now works with another medical program. Another graduate is currently teaching at a community college. While another, who is interested in representing the lives of vulnerable populations in film, has been accepted into a graduate program in film studies. A current MAPE student works for an organization that matches people with community volunteer opportunities. Overall, the master’s of arts in English with a public engagement emphasis has seen five students graduate.

“They’re doing exactly what we anticipated and hoped for them,” Walsh said. “We love the program, we’re excited about it and it’s growing. We really hope that soon we will be able to incorporate linguistics within the program. Public engagement has become sort of a seed crystal around which the entire English department has been reimagining the way English and the humanities fit in our community.”

The MAPE program has collaborated with the Washoe County School District, Nevada Museum of Art, Reno Bike Project, Osher Lifetime Learning Institute, Friends of Nevada Wilderness and Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. The program also invites a speaker every year to help unify the program and allow the students to connect with each other over their goals. The spring deadline to apply for the MAPE program is Oct. 1, 2019.

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